Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Myth of the Merely Hypothetical

A recent proposal in a Canadian Reformed classis to alter the Belgic Confession is already generating contentious discussion. The proposal specified:
God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen.2:21-22). They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans. There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid.
Rev. Bill de Jong, pastor of the Hamilton Cornerstone Canadian Reformed Church, in a recent blog post, argues against this proposal. According to him, the overture exaggerates the problem of evolution within the Canadian Reformed Church.

He contends that the two scientists mentioned in the proposal (Drs J. van der Meer and A. Sikkema) might well agree with the proposal, and that one scientist (Dr van der Meer) was considering human-like ancestors of Adam and Eve merely as a hypothetical possibility that he does not actually believe or teach.

Rev. de Jong writes:
"When this issue was discussed at Regional Synod East, this scientist was given liberty by this broader assembly to discuss and consider these theories...
Reformed theology endorses academic freedom and Reformed churches, unlike cults that indoctrinate and compel adherence, invite questions and even challenges to cherished doctrines. We want to be able to stare the evidence for the evolutionary theory in the eye, admit its strength where necessary and admire its beauty where evident, and then situate all of that evidence in a wider perspective that is governed by Scripture, circumscribed by the Reformed confessions, and informed by the orthodoxy of the catholic church."
1. Mere Discussion of the Hypothetical?
Note that Rev. de Jong claims that an entire Regional Synod East (2013) granted Dr van der Meer the liberty to discuss and consider the notion that Adam and Eve had human-like ancestors. (Dr van der Meer had appealed against disciplinary action for his teachings by his consistory and classis)

Sorry, but I find this hard to believe - where are the minutes of this meeting? Surely, discussion of theories must always be followed by judgment in the light of Scripture, and, certainly in this case, definite rejection. If Regional Synod East failed to thus qualify Dr van der Meer's "liberty", then the CanRC is in deep trouble.

The overture itself provides strong evidence that Drs van der Meer and Sikkema believe evolution to be more than merely a hypothetical possibility. Yes, the Reformed Academic blog editors (who include Drs van der Meer and Sikkema) have in the past indeed claimed that they merely want to discuss evolution. In practice, however, they never criticized but persistently endorsed evolution. For example, they affirmed: "Darwinian evolution is not opposed to Christianity"; "Theistic evolution is accepted among an increasing number of Bible-believing, orthodox Christians;" "Theistic evolution is not outside the boundaries of the Three Forms of Unity" (see my post Reformed Academic endorses evolution2).

Several Reformed Academic articles (by Dr van der Meer) specifically advocated human evolution, dismissing Gen.1-4 as simply not intended to meet the requirements of modern scientific and historical scholarship (see my post Evolution and The Fall). In one article Dr van der Meer wrote:
“If people living today would have been created by fiat creation rather than by evolutionary creation, there would have been no branching pattern unless the Creator would have wanted us to believe there had been a history which never actually occurred. Since the Creator does not deceive us I conclude that He created us by means of an evolutionary process thereby giving us a real evolutionary history. (see my post Would God Deceive Us?)
Here he clearly affirmed human evolution to be true, not a mere hypothetical possibility.

Alternatively, the Reformed Academic editors asserted that "one can hold both that the theory of biological evolution and the text of Genesis 1-2 are true by suspending judgment as to how they fit together" (see my post Reformed Doublethink). An interesting exercise in cognitive dissonance.

2. Is Evolution Unfalsified? Jong, echoing Dr Sikkema (see the comments in my previous post), asserts that evolution is an "as yet unfalsified (though falsifiable) paradigm".  A scientific theory is falsified if it contradicts the facts. How, one wonders, does Jong know that evolution is as yet unfalsified? Many scientists would dispute that claim.

Further, if Jong judges evolution to be as yet unfalsified, this entails that he accepts it as true, albeit tentatively. This contradicts his claim that evolution is considered to be merely a hypothetical possibility.

Most scientists profess to be searching for truth. Hence, the qualification "merely hypothetical" serves primarily as a useful ploy to grant the scientist the liberty to entertain theories that contradict the standards of his church or institution.

Moreover, the facts include also those historical facts found in the Bible. Since human evolution (an integral part of evolution) contradicts Scripture (Gen.2), and since the Belgic Confession (arts.5, 29) specifies that we should believe without doubt all things in Scripture, and reject all things contrary to it, how can Jong say that evolution is "as yet unfalsified"?

3. A Little History Lesson

In 1991 the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), which controls Calvin College, asserted:
The church declares, moreover, that the clear teaching of Scripture and of our confessions on the uniqueness of human beings as imagebearers of God rules out the espousing of all theorizing that posits the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race.” Unfortunately, it added the qualification, "But further investigation or discussion regarding the origin of humanity should not be limited". Thus it allowed for considering human evolution as merely a hypothetical possibility.
Consequently, by 2010 human evolution had become so widely accepted at Calvin College that the CRC dropped this rule. Shortly thereafter, two theology professors at Calvin College denied the historicity of Adam and his fall, and proposed a major overhaul of the doctrines of original sin, Christ's atonement, and eternal judgment (see my post The Evolution of Calvin College). This was defended, in the cause of academic freedom, as merely considering yet further hypothetical possibilities....

Is this where Rev. de Jong wants to go? Jong, in the beginning quote, points to the need for our discussion to be governed by Scripture. This is sound advice. But there seems to be little evidence of this standard among those promoting evolution within the CanRC.

4. So Where DO They Stand?

According to Rev. de Jong, Dr van der Meer does not really believe that Adam and Eve had human-like ancestors. I am happy to hear this. But, if so, it would be prudent for Dr van der Meer himself to confirm this clearly, and to publicly retract his earlier statements to the contrary. To this end, I would thus like to pose the same questions to Dr van der Meer - and to Jong - as I did to Dr Sikkema:

1. Was Adam directly created from inanimate dust, and Eve from his side?

2. Did Adam have any animal or human ancestry?

3. Did all other humans, past and present, descend from Adam and Eve?

4. Were there human-like (i.e., biologically similar) creatures before Adam? Co-existent with Adam?

5. Does Scripture falsify the claims that humans evolved from animal ancestors, and that the human population was never less than several thousand people?


1 comment:

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

No one seems interested in answering the questions. I think the title of your previous report said it all: the synod "rejects human evolution". I think that those who objected may have done so because they felt misrepresented in the overture, but it still stands to reason that the synod "rejects" while the point of those who objected is that they don't reject human evolution.

They're not willing to speak openly about this, because they just want to be open to the possibilities, possibilities which they cannot reject. For us the Bible is clear enough, and we can reject human evolution relying on the trustworthiness of God's Word; while they cannot reject the trustworthiness of human conclusions.

On a side note, I think we could also explore what is meant by the term "unfalsified". Evolution is still only an idea; it is not a fact. Even die-hard evolutionists assent to that. And a necessity to that idea is that the subject of God is scrupulously left out of it, because, it is believed, God is not a subject of science. Science, supposedly, is interested only in objective experimental methodology. Where exactly evolution fits into that is anyone's guess. It is speculation based on a limited number of facts. But that makes "falsification" just a matter of semantics: you really can't falsify something that stands on beliefs. It certainly does not stand on the objective experimental methodology.

So many wish to categorize faith in God as being unobjective, even subjective, and nothing other than that. They believe that you certainly cannot prove God's existence. But science, on the other hand is nothing if it isn't objective, and only objective. Never mind that if God really exists that that too is an objective reality: that is left out altogether because it violates their categories.

So you have every right to ask these questions of these people. Without answers to these questions we do not know where they stand, because they have one foot in the world's categories and, seemingly, one foot in ours.

I say "seemingly" because I would really like to know what they mean by "literal interpretation". In their usage of that term I never see the church's meaning intoned. It always portrayed as a subjective interpretation by them; while the church's meaning is scrupulously that of objective interpretation alone. That is, people such as RA put the literal interpretation of Genesis on par, on equal comparative footing, as the conclusions of men. But that is absolutely contrary to the church's meaning of that term. The Church necessarily defers to the literal meaning where meaning is in doubt: never is man's best meanings and intentions allowed come into it. So I'm not that sure that these men have that other foot in our world of categories.